community gardening

Instead of the “community supported agriculture” (CSA) program that we usually sign up for during the summer, which would have supplied us with a weekly basket of local, seasonal vegetables, we opted for a slightly different twist this year. We bought into a part of a “community garden,” something that was both slightly more expensive and required actual labor on our part. The upside is that we had some part in the growth and care taking of four beds within the garden and could better understand the source of our food and appreciate the sweat that went into everything from preparation to harvest. Okay, so that’s not exactly an “upside,” unless you take on a very specialized point of view. I’ll just say that we’ve learned a lot, and there’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained in doing hard work and doing it well.

The garden is, unsurprisingly, a lot of work. We knew there would be digging and weeding and picking, but I don’t think we appreciated the amount of these, especially the digging. Our beds, for example, started with lettuce and spinach, but once these were done in late June, we actually had a need to dig them up and replant them. There’s a sensibility to this, but there’s also a sense you get when you’re “double digging” (exactly what it sounds like) a bed in early May that you’ll be doing this hard labor just once. There’s a feeling of betrayal when you have to dig it all up again, in early July.

So, the garden is a lot of work, and we likely won’t do it again because we’ve realized how much time this takes us away from our own garden. Already we’re looking forward to another summer when we sweat in our own yard and then sit back in our own chairs with our own beer. Come to think about it, maybe one of the things that is overrated about the community garden is the “community” part of it. My favorite times at the garden were those when I ended up out there all by myself, or just with my own family. By I’m digressing.

Besides being a lot of work, there are a lot of people who complain about the amount of work. While I’m happy to state that “it’s a lot of work,” I’m not the kind of person who feels like it’s something we need to talk about, especially if it means we’re talking about the amount of work we have to do rather than just getting it done. That’s another problem with “community” — it contains a bunch of complainers. It also contains the person who directs the whole thing, owns the land — which is a little bit of its own problem as he’s imagining that this is a cooperative endeavor — and that person gets frustrated with others who don’t do enough work, but also exacerbates issues with his own stunted communication skills, very high standards and devotion to his own garden, and, the kinds of folks that typically sign up for a community garden.

The “kinds of folks” are, of course, all sorts. We’ve all signed on for lots of different reasons. But I suppose one feature of all these community gardeners is that they believed the notion of taking control of their own garden was something they were capable of doing. They must have had some sense that they knew, or could learn easily, what it was they were doing. They must have some list of accomplishments behind them already and undoubtedly some accumulation of ego. What I’m saying is this: The community garden draws a lot of people like me, university professors.

So here’s how it goes. A bunch of professors, who already believe they know everything about everything important, and who already believe that they have some authority and likely a sense of confidence in their own ways of doing things and their opinions about how things are to be done, all come together to work together on a garden that is both the fruit of a community and directed by a kind of overlord. Then, leaning on shovels and wiping their brows with colorful designer garden gloves, they strike up conversations that lead to a series of complaints looking for comaradery:

“The expectations are too high.”
“I never realized it would be so much work.”
“He doesn’t realize that we have a life outside of this garden.”
“I don’t know why I have to learn to do it that way, when the way I was doing it already is perfectly fine.”
“I’m offended that he thinks he should be able to tell me how to do things all the time, and then continually add new tasks that I didn’t ever expect.”

The grand irony and my actual point in all this: These are exactly the same things these professors’ students are saying about them in the hallways, before classes, and within the student union building. Who’s to know, really, when these statements are valid. We all know that cultivating a garden, the mind, or a community is always a lot of effort.

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